Google Trends
Photo (cc) by Simon via Pixabay

Anybody who’s tried to perform a self-diagnosis by googling their symptoms knows that just because you’re typing something into that search bar, doesn’t mean that you want it.

Nevertheless, trends in Google searches can reveal what people are curious about. Google Trends is an online tool by Google that shows search frequency for phrases and words and organizes trending topics from around the world. The homepage is a fully interactive experience with the 2016 Presidential Election story displayed as a banner across the top of the page with featured insights and trending stories (presumably with more accuracy than Facebook trends) below the banner.

The banner leads to a full page of search trends relating to the 2016 Presidential Election. At the top of the page, readers can choose to look at the data for the presidential candidates, their running mates, and the combined presidential tickets.

Here is the national interest in each candidate for the past week (October 7th-14th) with Trump as the clear leader in Google searches. Searches spiked on October 9th, most likely due to the second Presidential Debate.

Google Trends
© 2015 Google Inc, used with permission. Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google Inc.

Following this graph is data for state-by-state interest in the US election in general with the ability to select a state to see more in-depth analysis. I am a native Californian and a registered voter in the state of California, so I’ll choose California as my example. In the last week, Trump claimed 60% of the search interest in any of the presidential candidates and Clinton followed with 33%. There is also a further breakdown of the data by county, revealing that Trump was in fact the most searched in every individual county of California as well. Google Trends is also compiling data on search interest in policy issues, including the economy, immigration, abortion, gun control, and ISIS.

Additional graphics focused on the election show interest in voter registration by region, top issues being searched by state, and searches for “Vote …” with lines for each of the four candidates.

Below is a representation of the volume of searches for “How to vote for …” which is at the highest level it’s ever been.

Google Trends
© 2015 Google Inc, used with permission. Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google Inc.

My first impression upon seeing this graphic was that the spike is related to the overwhelmingly negative sentiment towards both of the front-running candidates. I thought people might be searching for something like, “how to vote for someone not on the ballot”. When I type “how to vote for” into my Google search bar the top suggestions that I see are:

  • How to vote for president
  • How to vote for agt (an acronym for America’s Got Talent)
  • How to vote for Trump
  • How to Vote for Jill Stein
  • How to vote for Gary Johnson in polls

Google’s suggested searches don’t seem to support any direct correlation between an increased volume of searches for the phrase “how to vote for …” and a desire to vote for a write-in candidate. However, a recent article from CNN specifically looks at the search trends for the term ‘write in’ and notes that the numbers, “surged over the last week by more than 2,800%, hitting a record high since 2004.” It’s important to note that there is a significant difference in the trends between the terms ‘write in’ and ‘write-in’. Whereas, ‘write-in’ does see significant and steady spikes during in election cycle (including the mid-terms), the term ‘write in’ has an oddly consistent up-and-down cycle, but has been on the rise overall. The reporter at CNN goes on to look at more specific terms such as ‘is Bernie Sanders a write in candidate’ and ‘Mitt Romney write in’, which shows much more reliable results.

The article examines where these searches are coming from the most, and the majority are not in the battleground states but in states that are democratic and republican strongholds. As I said, the fact that a large number of people are searching for something on Google won’t necessarily translate to results or a particular outcome. Still, I think it will be interesting to see the percentage of voters that will opt for a write-in candidate in November. CNN reported that in 2012 write-in votes accounted for just 0.11% of votes, which was the largest percentage share for the last four presidential elections and I expect we will see a much higher number for 2016.

Data collected and curated by Google Trends isn’t going to tell us who will be the next president, but it does offer unique insight into the minds of Americans as a collective.


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